By Mark Fike
R3 is the new buzzword within the hunting community, which stands for Recruit, Retain, Reactivate.
Without getting into a plethora of facts and figures, in summary, the number of active hunters is—and has been—declining at an alarming rate.
If outdoorsmen and women don’t reverse this trend immediately, a cascade of things will happen.
Gone are the days when the first day of deer season meant men and women heading to deer camp where bonds were formed between family and friends, memories were made, kids were taught life skills, and people learned about and cared for nature.
As a schoolteacher, I see the unintended ignorance of our environment.
Today’s care of the environment is chalked up mainly as avoiding the use of plastic or converting to solar or other renewable energy. While those things are great, and they are important, they are a far cry from understanding how nature works.
Worse yet, many young people today cannot fathom an hour, let alone a few days, without social media.
Last year I took a young man deer hunting. Within minutes, he was totally ignoring the landscape right in front of him and was scrolling through Instagram posts of others who had killed a deer—meanwhile lamenting why hadn’t he killed any deer yet!
Want to really torture a young person? Take away their phone!
Hunting brings us back to our roots.
Hunting also teaches us how to get along, enjoy, and actually appreciate others. Deer camp was a big part of this.
But even mentoring others to hunt teaches others how to read the land, learn about the animals, the weather, and to respect those who teach us. We respected those who knew more than we did for their knowledge and their gift of sharing it, and in turn we respect the land and the animals before we pass on our knowledge to someone else later.
Our memories nowadays are turning into social media posts. When I first started teaching, I recall driving to work and seeing kids at the bus stops talking, running around chasing each other in a nearby yard or tossing a ball. Now they are all hunched over on their phone texting or looking at videos. It is sad.
Hunting gives us a wholesome pursuit and allows us to communicate about things that mean something, that are worthwhile. We talk and tell stories using hand gestures to indicate distance or size, something you cannot do effectively on a phone. We engage each other when we hunt—and then after the hunt. We learn to work hard to get results.
Who will take up conservation and pay for it?
Hunters and anglers are the biggest champions of the environment. Unlike some radical groups who scream from the rooftops about our environment, hunters and anglers actually pour money into conservation and saving animals, land, and waterways.
If hunting goes by the wayside, then a lot of funding for preserving or conserving open spaces, woodlands, prairie potholes, marshes, inshore waters, wetlands and other areas will completely dry up.
Tradition of outdoor recreation will die
Finally, we should care about R3 and hunting because if we do not pass on our tradition, it will die.
The fewer people who understand why hunting matters, the fewer who will vote with us or sympathize with us and our love for the outdoors.
One striking figure that I will quote here is that it is believed that 5% of our population consists of people who are hunters or strongly favor hunting. 5% percent are totally against it. The other 90% are reportedly on the fence, but often lean towards being okay with legal and ethical hunting so long as it’s a fair chase.
While 90% may seem like a lot of support, that 90% could easily swing the other way with a well-placed flurry of bad press or propaganda.
I also feel the number of supporters who are currently non-hunters will begin dropping because, of those 90%, I am sure some are folks who have friends or relatives that hunt and therefore can relate at least indirectly with hunting.
However, with hunter numbers dropping, that indirect relationship will drop too.
We need to bolster those numbers ASAP!
So, what do we do?
We mentor a new hunter. It doesn’t have to be a young person either. If we recruit an adult, they will take their kids. And if we do recruit a youth, we need to be willing to teach their parent how to hunt!
This takes time and dedication. We ALL need to roll up our sleeves and not be greedy.
We need to share our hunting lease for a few seasons and show someone the ropes until they feel confident enough to go find their own place to hunt. We need to encourage someone who used to hunt to go with us and start hunting again.
We need to show people the joys of hunting, the memories, the bonds that grow and keep, and the wonderful food we often get as a result.
And when we get that food, we need to be prepared to walk our new mentee through cleaning and cooking it.
Perhaps the best way to do this is to take them on a hunt where harvesting something is likely. Then show them how to field dress the animal, and then a week or two later, invite them for supper and serve the food. Eating can be believing and a great recruitment tool.
I once showed a parent of a youth who was in my outdoor club my freezer and pointed out that everything in it I had harvested or raised myself. I remember his eyes getting big and a comment being made about how much money I must save.
Sure, I spend money on my gear and licenses, but that is money my non-hunting friends would spend on sports or entertainment. I double dip. I get the fun of hunting AND the food at one cost.
Once we gain a new hunter, we need to keep them active and share all the types of hunting we do. This is retention. We need to invite them along, lend them a bow we no longer use or take them to the skeet range. We need to show them how to train their retriever or rabbit dog.
In short, we need to stop being selfish and share what we have so that we can continue to enjoy all the bounty hunting offers for generations to come. We will gain new friends, respect, and a future of great memories too. Our kids will be better for it.
If you know a person who used to hunt as a kid, invite them to the range this summer. Get them back into shooting and then invite them to go hunting with you. This is reactivation. It is not hard to do and you may end up with a new friend.
R3 is the path back to our roots and a wholesome life where people cared about each other, the land, and the environment.
The outdoors is a great path to a healthy life and a way to share it with family and friends for some great memories. R3 matters to all of us.